Tired of slow cooker recipes that call for an hour of prep work before you finally get to set the timer and walk away? The editors at America's Test Kitchen hear you. Their latest cookbook of slow cooker recipes (The Easy-Prep Edition!) is full of just the kind of "set it and forget it" meals that make us glad we own a slow cooker.
• Who wrote it: America's Test Kitchen
• Who published it: America's Test Kitchen
• Number of recipes: Around 200
• Recipes for right now: Creamy Crab Dip, Asian Chicken Noodle Soup, Curried Lentil Soup, Pork Vindaloo, Smoky Ranch Chili, Chicken Mole, Cowboy Steak and Beans, Holiday Glazed Ham, Butternut Squash Risotto
• Other highlights: Every recipe in this book comes with a guarantee: it will take no more than 15 minutes to prep the recipe and get it in the slow cooker. They meet this guarantee in a few ways. First, they keep the list of ingredients to a minimum so "prep" work is often little more than mincing a few cloves of garlic or chopping up a roast. Vegetables and even meat that need pre-cooking (like hamburger) are usually cooked in the microwave instead of on the stove-top — an approach that they've often used in past recipes to cut cooking times and simplify prep work.
Since you're not searing meat or browning vegetables, you lose a little of that savory umami flavor that makes slow-cooked dishes so incredibly good. The cooks at America's Test Kitchen make up for this by adding other savory ingredients to the recipe, like tomato paste and soy sauce. Personally, I would probably add these ingredients and sear my meat! But if time is of the essence, I think paying attention to these umami-rich ingredients is a great shortcut approach.
Many of these recipes also rely on pre-made ingredients, like jars of Alfredo sauce, boxed stuffing mix, and condensed French onion soup. I think everyone is going to have a different comfort level with using ingredients like this. The quality and tastiness of your dish is also going to depend a lot on the quality of the pre-made ingredients you can find. Not every recipe uses these kinds of ingredients, but it's something worth knowing about going into the book.
One thing that I love about this book is that the recipes really cover a range of cooking times. I've been in situations where I realize I only have 4 hours for dinner, which is often too little for a good slow-cooker dish but too long for a stove-top dish; or the contrast, I'm heading out the door at 7am and won't be back for 10 hours, which is longer than many of my stand-by slow cooker recipes. In Slow Cooker Revolution, Vol. 2, there are plenty of recipes that meet either scenario — and others that I'm sure will come up!
Some more technical details for you: There are chapters covering slow cooker basics, appetizers, soups and chilis, chicken dinners and roasts, pastas and casseroles, vegetarian dinners, small meals for two, side dishes, and desserts. The book has a flexible binding that helps it lay flat on the counter. Most recipes have just 3 or 4 steps and fit on a single page, so there's no flipping back and forth while making a recipe. As always with books from America's Test Kitchen, there are lots of boxes and side-bars explaining best ingredients to use, basic techniques, and prep tips.
• Who would enjoy this book? Busy home cooks (i.e. all of us!), new slow cooker owners, students
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Slow Cooker Revolution, Volume 2: Easy Prep Edition by America's Test Kitchen
• Visit the author's website: America's Test Kitchen
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)